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8 Concerns Only a Food Allergy Parent Would Understand

Medically reviewed by Shruti Wilson, M.D.
Written by Torrey Kim
Posted on December 13, 2023

When your child has food allergies, every encounter where snacks, meals, or drinks are involved can become stressful. Even when you take myriad precautions, there can still be confusion about what is safe for your child or how to explain it to others.

“How do you deal with family members who think some of your child’s allergies are not that bad or say ‘a little won't hurt them’?” asked one MyFoodAllergyTeam member.

If this conversation sounds familiar — or you face other confusing situations that no one else seems to understand — you’re in good company. Here are eight concerns you’ll recognize if you’re a food allergy parent.

1. You’re Accustomed to Bringing Your Child’s Food to Parties

Attending a birthday party, picnic, or family event is commonplace for kids, but the menu at these functions will never be an afterthought for the parent of a child with food allergies. In many cases, you’ll want to either ask the host what they’re planning to serve or bring your own food so your child can still eat while avoiding potential allergens.

“I don’t care if parents get upset when I ask what they’re serving at birthday parties,” one MyFoodAllergyTeam member wrote. “Now don’t get me wrong, I am very polite, but we have to do what’s best for us.”

Another member said, “Don’t be afraid to bring his own food that you have safely prepared for him in advance to family events or parties.”

2. It Can Be Expensive To Manage Food Allergies

Between the cost of allergy blood tests, doctor visits, emergency medications like epinephrine auto-injectors, buying special foods, hiring specially trained caregivers, and missing work when your child has a severe allergic reaction, the cost of managing food allergies can add up. In fact, one study found that the direct costs of managing a food allergy were $4,184 per child every year.

“It can get expensive to buy premade gluten-free snacks,” one member wrote. Another said, “I’m more comfortable throwing all of the kids’ parties at my house so I can make all the food — it can get expensive, but it’s safer.”

3. Traveling Requires Serious Advance Planning

Before you hit the road with your child, you’re likely to first investigate what the food, snack, and drink options will be along your travel route. Even if you’re great about packing allergy-friendly bites and bottled beverages, the reality is that premade food may not be an option when long trips are involved. So planning ahead to find out where your child can dine and where they can’t will be of paramount importance — particularly if you’re traveling abroad.

Although traveling requires some serious legwork, your efforts can pay off in a successful trip. “We made laminated cards in French and Italian to show waiters and store proprietors during our recent trip with my daughter, which explained she had a life-or-death allergy to cashews, pistachios, and pink peppercorn,” one MyFoodAllergyTeam member wrote. “Each family member carried one so if we separated during the day for any reason, she could still eat! Best of all, our daughter was able to see and do so much, and now she knows she can be safe almost anywhere she decides to travel if she does a little prep work ahead.”

4. Your Child May Face Social Challenges

No matter how old your child is, it’s likely that their social life involves occasions that revolve around food, which can lead to social issues.

“My 13-year-old daughter has the top eight common food allergies,” one member wrote. “She has never met anyone around her age with food allergies. She was sick a lot when she was little due to her allergies, and I feel her social skills suffered because of it.”

Studies have confirmed that individuals with food allergies face social isolation, greater stress, and psychological issues due to the burden of living with the condition. As a parent, it can be incredibly challenging watching your child struggle with social issues, but some parents say it makes their kids stronger. “My child knows how to self-advocate and has made fewer (but deeper) friendships, which I think is a positive,” one member wrote.

5. You’re Always on Alert for Symptoms of a Reaction

Even if you know your child has only eaten safe foods, you’re probably still always on alert for the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The slightest red mark on your child’s face might make you concerned that they’re experiencing hives, while trouble breathing from a cold may prompt you to wonder if they were exposed to food allergens. This kind of worry is constant and common and can lead to stress for parents.

One study found that 75 percent of parents of children who had food allergies experienced fear and anxiety, while 82 percent said food allergies consumed their minds “all the time.”

“Managing the stress comes along with the allergies, unfortunately,” one MyFoodAllergyTeam member wrote.

6. Your Child May Have To Handle Mature Topics

Most children can live their early years without having to worry about things like anaphylaxis, food labels, and an allergic reaction action plan, but that’s not usually the case for those with food allergies, which can be hard for parents to face.

Discussing these topics is important to ensure that your child has the skills and tools in place to manage an allergic reaction if one should arise. For young children, you can explain food allergies in simple terms, getting increasingly more detailed as they grow older. Eventually, they’ll have the tools they need to self-advocate and manage their allergies independently.

“Just dropped my teen off for a state theater convention with her high school,” one MyFoodAllergyTeam member wrote. “First time she has not been with one of her parents to help her with her peanut allergy and tree nut allergy. I hope I have equipped her with the knowledge and training she needs to keep safe and she will be an advocate for herself.”

7. You Might Blame Yourself

Some parents can’t help but take the blame for their child’s food allergies, which can add to the stress of handling this condition. “Our pediatrician said we can blame my daughter’s allergies on me,” one MyFoodAllergyTeam member wrote.

The reality is that even if you have food allergies elsewhere in your family, that doesn’t mean your child will necessarily have one, and the genetics of how food allergies develop is still being studied. It’s important not to blame yourself for your child’s allergies — instead, use that energy to work toward managing the condition.

8. Some Tough Conversations May Be Necessary With Others

The unfortunate truth is that not everyone in your life is likely to understand how serious a food allergy can be, which may lead to difficult conversations with friends and family members.

“From what I’ve experienced, people who don’t have a food allergy or a child with one are never going to fully comprehend what we go through day in and day out,” one member wrote.

Another member replied, “Stand up to your family and make them understand that you are your child’s mother. You know what’s best for him, and you do not need any of their advice, especially when it comes to his food allergies! Remind them that food allergies are life-threatening, and as his mother, you are doing what you need to do to keep him safe.”

If you are a food allergy parent, navigating the world of snacks, meals, and drinks can become quite stressful. Even with a variety of safety measures in place, it’s still tricky to know what’s safe for your child. Managing food allergies is an ongoing task that needs careful attention and clear communication to keep your child safe and well.

Find Your Team

MyFoodAllergyTeam is the social network for people with food allergies and their loved ones. On MyFoodAllergyTeam, more than 40,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with food allergies.

What other situations do you encounter that only another food allergy parent would understand? Have you talked to your allergist or other health care provider about how to handle these issues? Share in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on December 13, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Shruti Wilson, M.D. is an allergist and immunologist in Burlington, Massachusetts. Learn more about her here.
Torrey Kim is a freelance writer with MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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